Laboratory Testing & General Mineral Processing Engineering

Laboratory Testing & General Mineral Processing Engineering 2017-03-23T09:50:31+00:00
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Asking a Question Properly (17 replies)

David
1 year ago
David 1 year ago

I'm always fascinated how questions get asked on technical forums with no data or explanation whatsoever. There are thousands of years of experience at our fingertips here and yet somehow the most vague question is asked, little to no data is supplied.

Please people, think about your question before you press submit and be ready to supply more technical answers when asked questions.  This will save everyone time and get you the correct answer faster!

I am launching this topic to get other member's input on the Science of Asking the right question and then backing it up with some data.

JohnnyD
1 year ago
JohnnyD 1 year ago

There does seem to be an unbelievable gap in basic minerals processing knowledge, judging by some of the queries. I hope it is only due to the lack of thought before asking, laziness rather than lack of education. However, to my mind there is no better training than experience, one benefit of getting older? Also, it is up to the more knowledgeable engineers to ensure that basic theoretical understanding and operating experience is passed on.

Alan Carter
1 year ago
Alan Carter 1 year ago

I guess that the modern age has made people lazy - either not properly researching the topic or expecting a 'quick' hit of information (many questions appear to be university assignments and the 'students' don't seem to have much idea about the question itself and what data or information to share).

Certainly western universities 'teaching' metallurgy have either become very general (swallowed up by Chemical Engineering departments) or very specialised in response to the local industry or the academics employed (e.g. hydrometallurgy in WA) - and just don't appear to teach the standard, universal approach (i.e. researching a topic) nor present the broader, overview course on metallurgy and providing specialisation as required. It may arise because the lecturers have a limited knowledge and experience base and don't really appreciate the skill required in the metallurgical operating space.

It is common for a question to be posed without supporting data (or even thinking) and it takes forever to squeeze this information out of the questioner. Presumably the questioner wants a balanced and meaningful answer however they are not typically providing the basis for this to occur. 

Bill Fraser
1 year ago
Bill Fraser 1 year ago

It is like a breath of fresh air to read the frank expression of present state of affairs related to mineral sciences and metallurgy. Both Teaching and R&D Organisations got into a comfort sphere.. They keep on saying that students are not interested in hard core subjects and are looking to more software profession. For me these are only excuses from Teachers and we are failing to make the mineral/metallurgy courses more challenging for the youngsters

I hope some drastic changes come and we serve the profession in a more professional way. 

David
1 year ago
David 1 year ago

Good discussion let's keep it rolling. When I see engineer at the end of someone's title and then read the question posed I cringe. At times I really have to hold my tongue, sometimes I don't. We as process engineers have one of the most exciting jobs in the world, we have incredible equipment, n number of possible process routes, we have to have a good knowledge of electrical, mechanical and civil in order to do our work effectively. No other profession comes close ( I hope this statement opens some debate too from the other engineers. This is why I get so frustrated when there is so much we can do to help up and coming "engineers".

I hope some of them, just few please, read this and think before posting "how do I separate iron ore tailings?" or "how much flocculant?", and use this forum and a learning forum, we want to help. 

It is OK to not know and ask for help.  The asker must help the helper.

David Kano
1 year ago
David Kano 1 year ago

Interesting to note the phrase 'a balanced and meaningful answer'. My view is that the enquirer needs a lot of help with the question. There is a need for a basic understanding of the systems and processes involved before the correct question can be asked and hence a constructive answer given. The discussion on pre-concentration is an example of this. If the inquirer does not understand geological ore body definition, mine planning, mineralogy and comminution, as well as capabilities of equipment, instrumentation and process control, application of a quick answer could turn out to be quite expensive. I do not know how students are being taught at the moment, but I imagine it is focussed on the computer rather than intuitive and innovative thinking about the basics.

Victor Bergman
1 year ago
Victor Bergman 1 year ago

It is coming out so clearly that geology/petrology and mineral processing are so interrelated; one should not thing the former is science and the latter is process.

I would also add a few other things to an undergraduate course like the 'Study Process' - Conceptual to Feasibility - which requires a lot of inputs and co-operation from various disciplines - I think it naturally brings everyone together including infrastructure, environmental and social aspects, marketing, financial analysis, risk analysis and mitigation, etc etc.

On the mineral processing side, the students would learn the importance of geometallurgy (ore types and taking representative samples, designing and managing good testwork programs – the need to talk with geologists and mining engineers), developing practical flowsheets, mass and water balances, developing design criteria - how to interpret testwork results and scale up, selecting and sizing equipment including modelling (particularly comminution circuits), the practice and methodology behind assembling capital and operating costs and the associated contingencies and accuracy, conducting trade-off studies, estimating water and power requirements, developing product specifications and understanding markets, understanding risk.

Probably best done as a fourth year subject as a 3 month project in teams of three...like what was done decades ago.

Tony Verdeschi
1 year ago
Tony Verdeschi 1 year ago

Totally agree, ours is indeed a wide-ranging discipline!  You could also add 'Project Management' - issues related to getting the plant constructed, commissioned and operating, which also includes people management, safety and environmental issues. All this needs quality students to be attracted to the industry in the first place, with experienced lecturers available to teach them. Perhaps some of the topics could be added as M.Sc courses, after some industry experience. A big problem is the boom-and-bust nature of the industry in terms of job continuity, which is another question that needs to be addressed! There does seem to be a need for the larger mining companies with experienced people who can spend some time being involved in the training area. I do not have any knowledge of whether this is happening anywhere.

Bob Mathias
1 year ago
Bob Mathias 1 year ago

It takes a long time to recognize within oneself that you don't know what you don't know. Just asking a blind question, is often because the asker does not really know at all. those with the many years of experience can see the bigger picture around the problem and maybe we are a bit jaded in our responses. We in the older group never had google/Wikipedia etal and answers at our fingertips, so maybe we learnt how to ask the right questions because the search was a lot longer.

David
1 year ago
David 1 year ago

Unfortunately it seems that it's the old boys discussing this. Can some of the younger members please come on board and let's discuss how we can make better use of this open forum to help each other and help the industry. As I used to tell my engineering students, a degree does not make you an engineer, its the experience after the degree that makes you an engineer.

John Koenig
1 year ago
John Koenig 1 year ago

I have seen countless threads bemoaning the poor quality of questions and, while these are valid comments on the nature of the questions, the complaints don't strike me as productive.

A well formed question with a succinct yes/no answer is a good hypothesis. Since engineers receive little to no training in formulating hypotheses before postgraduate, let's not be too hard on recent students for their inability to do it. Doing postgraduate taught me how hard it is to formulate a good hypothesis. It can require deep and broad domain-specific knowledge to reject irrelevant or internally inconsistent hypotheses and formulate a good one. Depending on the difficulty of the problem, it is an act of conceptualisation and creation that can take months. By the time you ask a good question, it's highly probable that you know the answer. In contrast, answering is a mechanical process requiring no creativity.

'The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.' - Albert Einstein

Knowing what you don't know is the first step to seeking the answer. Another key aspect is knowing what matters. Experience imparts a wealth of both, but again we receive no training as engineers regarding how important these types of knowledge are, or how to get this knowledge.

Hence, asking a bad question implies that the asker: 

A. Has no idea what they are really ignorant about regarding the topic
B: Has no idea if they're asking about an important aspect of the topic

This is the natural state of affairs for someone new to a topic. They might not even know the jargon.

As people answering such poorly formed, misguided questions we have two choices: 

A: Perform the act of creation along with the asker, show the inner mental workings of the hard part of Q&A and try to guide the asker to what they really want to know, and why. Eventually you formulate a good, testable, relevant hypothesis. 

Then you answer it.
B: Demean the asker for their poorly formed question, discouraging them from asking again

I have seen a lot of kids getting a thorough beatdown for being ignorant when this is only natural and normal.

On the other hand, sometimes "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it think". Askers who are not willing to work for a meaningful answer to a meaningful question are not worth answering. There is no free lunch.

Victor Bergman
1 year ago
Victor Bergman 1 year ago

Well it is a bit more than that. Your response seems to make a case for the technically ignorant who lack self-knowledge and introspection. A dangerous combination but not uncommon - but should it be accepted and tolerated in a public technical forum? It certainly wouldn't be in an academic form.

Are we really talking about 'kids' - presumably young teenagers - or individuals who have been exposed to, at the very least, tertiary education? I think the latter - by definition, people who subscribe to this forum, have a technical background, presumably through education or experience or preferably both.

Love the line about frightening them off - due to challenging the nature of their poorly expressed question. I have not noticed that the calls for more information to be particularly scathing or personal or damaging in anyway - so I think that you have overplayed this aspect. In fact they are typical responses to poorly framed questions lacking detail. This is the real world, as you well know from the rather intellectually brutish world of academe, there are few favors and little nurturing.

And Bob is correct in saying that sometimes you do not know what you don't know. But this forum is not addressing matters of such consequence and philosophy that would substantially change the destiny of the universe. The forum questions are dealing with relatively simple/straightforward matters of a technical substance and, if clearly elucidated, have an excellent chance of garnering a swag of useful, educational and potentially problem-solving answers.

Unless the individual actually failed to be educated, ignorance does not work as an excuse and certainly with regard to 'how to ask/frame a question' (which what the discussion is really about). As noted by Bob, one can search Google these days for background, or even do, heaven forbids, some literature research before launching a question on a technical site. Just assembling all of the supporting information available with the question would be a useful step forward and probably eliminate 50% or more of the responses.

People respond to questions in a show of interest and desire to inform and educate. Such good-will should not be squandered otherwise the community may simply start ignoring the pleas for answers based on ill-conceived or poorly presented questions.

John Koenig
1 year ago
John Koenig 1 year ago

Fair enough, you may be right that I'm overstating things, in a devil's advocate style.

My point boils down to: people are not well equipped by their training to ask good questions - we spend decades learning to answer them. I feel this is a failure in our education system.

Victor Bergman
1 year ago
Victor Bergman 1 year ago

I agree totally. I think that generally, academics and educational are out of touch with many aspects required for a successful life and career. Surely you would train people how to think, where to find information, how to analysis information, even how to learn as well as how and when to study, etcetera and then the general approach to understanding and analyzing mineral processing systems (for example) before burying them in the minutiae of technical detail that they may never use in their working lives - ignoring potential researchers.

We studied management, but there are many things that people need to have an awareness (and some understanding) of - that why I think understanding the project study process marries many of these things.

Helena Russell
1 year ago
Helena Russell 1 year ago

I certainly agree with some points made here, especially by Victor. It isn't just people, especially junior engineers not knowing what are the correct questions to ask, but the nature of the question(s) which make it appear that the person asking the question has failed to conducted any preliminary research themselves. In short it reeks of laziness. As Victor and Bob mentioned, these days there's no excuse for not at least doing a basic internet search to get some information to assist the person asking questions in forming questions to help those people willing to provide their own time to guide others. For example questions such as "I have a lead ore of grade XXX%Pb. How do I treat that?" doesn't help anyone. It's understandable that experienced people, who are willing to help others and provide their valuable knowledge and experience, don't bother answering these questions.

Maya Rothman
1 year ago
Maya Rothman 1 year ago

A critical aspect of this is around engineers as problem solvers. To your point about finding and analysing information, learning, etc., it's well worth taking a close look at how well students are being educated as problem solvers. The use of anything approximating the scientific method is often not being well disseminated to undergraduate students. Speaking with many graduate students, who describe their experiences as menial labor, they may not be learning the scientific method of problem solving either. Lacking this qualification any ability for inquiry and use of available scientific knowledge is questionable.

Problem solving skills - the old FADE technique : Focus (ask questions - understand the problem), Analyse, Develop and Execute. Good stuff.

It is becoming quite a trend, and if one conducted an analysis of the 'vague questions', one would find that they are generally non-Western students, occasionally admitting that they working on assignments or projects. So it would appear that 'we' are expected to do the 'heavy lifting' for them and allow them to bypass the associated learning experiences

Bill Fraser
1 year ago
Bill Fraser 1 year ago

The one thing that I am seeing that as our society rejects engineering and moves to more "arts" degrees the university classes are moving away from logical thought and deriving answers and more to a high-school style classroom designed to maximize the number of graduates..

There seem to be two types of questioner, the student seeking industrial input, who I tend to ignore, unless they have very precise questions. And the engineering graduate, who has been dumped into a sink or swim situation by a university course that taught them nothing. These, especially in African Mines and Mills I do try to help. In my day I not only had excellent professors who had hands on expertise, but my first 5 or so years in industry I was put in problem situations and told to resolve them, without www. Even in North America I see Mine & Mill managers with under 10 years expertise, plus a few who are past retirement age.

Ten of my #1 contacts are members so perhaps they will let me assist. Not only are Mining Schools closing, but the number of annual graduates is also falling, an inadequate solution to mass retirement by experienced engineers.

And they say there's no stupid question! Seriously I enjoyed reading these thought experiments and have to agree with Andrew's last comment; there is something gratifying about following through on the learning process - use the experts to guide you but tell them to shut up (it is the Gen Y's time to shine after all!) if they give too much away that can't be found out by taking some next easy steps.

Our degree training teaches us to rush to an answer that sounds and might pass for something reasonable. When it comes to the the working world, you will have to think two or three steps ahead since this will have real impacts for safety, production loss or the mine futures.

You will be thankful for the free lessons you've been given.

John Koenig
1 year ago
John Koenig 1 year ago

Many aspects have come out and I feel so happy that we want these Forums; As pointed out, many questions of trivial nature come because the new entrants to industry find something which was never taught in their studies. Yes, we need a major shift in educational system( let me say straight,Teachers), particularly in mineral processing, to attend to the new challenges of reducing power/ water consumption/ treating lean ores/ selecting proper equipment and process variables/de-watering and filtration/ getting maximum recoveries at given grades and etc etc.

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